It is more than 2500 years old and is one of the most recognizable man-made structures on the planet, but the Great Wall of China is quietly, and quickly, disappearing, one stone at a time.
Built in ancient times to keep invading Mongols out, the Great Wall is a historical treasure for China. Stretching for thousands of kilometers across northern China, the World Heritage site is a marvel that attracts tens of thousands of tourists every year.
But the massive length of the wall is also its greatest weakness. In rural areas, the wall continues to disappear with alarming regularity due to erosion and vandalism.
Aside from tourist spots near major cities such as Beijing, most of the wall is in poor condition and research indicates that 74 percent of it is poorly protected.
"In the summer of 2014, we discovered that the walls were toppled. There were people buying scorpions from villagers to make Chinese medicine, and each scorpion was worth 5 cents. Five cents meant nothing to adults, but was appealing to children. Since scorpions resided between bricks, children toppled the Great Wall to catch them," said Huo Jien Ren, a Great Wall volunteer.
Hou added that the rural areas of the wall, without the promise of tourists, lack profitability, which leads to a lack of protection from officials.
Besides vandalism, the weather itself is largely to blame for the problem, according to local resident A Mao, who did not want to give his family name.
"It starts weathering once the weather gets drier. If the weather is rainy or windy, it weathers as well. There are cavities. They needed to be fixed," he said.
Although China’s State Council recently issued new regulations to protect the wall, the current situation remains gloomy.
But according to the Beijing municipal government, Beijing, Hebei, and Tianjin have reached an agreement on repairing and protecting the Great Wall in rural areas.